Spanish and English share, with only a last-letter’s difference, the word prosa/prose, which has a history less straightforward than the type of writing it represents. English took prose from Old French, which, like Spanish, got it from Latin, where it was the first part of the phrase prosa oratio. The fact that oratio was a feminine noun meaning ‘speech’ (think of oración/oration) implies that prosa was originally an adjective telling the sort of speech being referred to, and so it was. The adjective prosus (the default masculine form) was a phonetically simplified version of prorsus, which had already been simplified from Old Latin provorsus (remember that Latin v was pronounced like English w). Latin pro, a relative of native English for and forth, meant ‘forward’ and in this case ‘straightforward,’ while vorsus was a past participle of vertere ‘to turn.’ Put all that together, and prosa/prose is ‘speech that is turned out in a straightforward manner.’ Now if we could just get lawyers and politicians (and I would add administrators and professors of education, social scientists, and teenagers) to remember that, the world would be ‘[hence]forth [con]verted’ to a better place.
© 2012 Steven Schwartzman